This post is long overdue. In the middle of April I had the pleasure and privilege of attending and participating in the Academy of Religious Leadership’s Annual Meeting and Conference. This year’s theme for the event was, “Innovation and Leadership.”
In attending and participating in the Academy of Religious Leadership (ARL) last month I had one feeling that struck me more than anything, “I’ve found my people.” There’s something that happens when you find community, a feeling of peace and affirmation. But in experiencing ARL, I felt more than just a community I felt like I was in community with people who also live at the intersection points of leadership and leadership theory, and ministry, theology and religion. If you follow this blog at all, you know that at its core are points of intersection across sectors.
So it was such a joy that my friend and mentor Dr. Terri Elton not only invited me but helped make it possible for me to attend. Terri, I am grateful and indebted to you. I am also grateful that the congregation I am currently serving helped with some of the expenses as well as part of my “continuing education.”
The discussion was amazing. Rev. Dr. Dwight Zscheile, one of my favorite professors from Luther Seminary, kicked us off with a presentation and discussion on “Disruptive Innovation and the Deinstitutionalization of Religion.” It was a conversation grounded in part based on his recently released book The Agile Church, but also as a sort of a follow-up. There were also presentations and discussions on the intersections of innovation and creativity, identity construction and the tension between innovation and tradition. One of the questions we pondered together with Dr. Scott Cormode was, “How do we pursue innovation when our credibility depends on continuity with the past and fidelity with tradition?” I also greatly appreciated the idea as a counter to the more usual leader-follower dynamic that Scott shared, that as he sees it, “leaders do not have followers; they have people entrusted to their care.”
In addition to the discussion and learning, the food was fantastic. During a lunch break Allison and I briskly walked down to the Bean and Millennium Park, just because I had never seen either before as I had never previously spent time in downtown Chicago. That evening we all enjoyed wonderful and authentic Chicago cuisine, especially deep dish pizza, at Gino’s East, a famous pizza restaurant a block a way from the hotel where our conference was taking place. The pizza and the conversation around it might have been worth the whole conference alone, it was so good.
Even more than the discussion, location and food, the people were amazing. All of the ARL participants I met are humble, affirming, and great conversation partners. No one had to take care of an ego, or felt defensive it seemed. Rather, each was generally interested in learning about each other’s stories, and catching up with old friends and colleagues. It was a joy for me to connect in person with people I have read their work over the years, in classes and online. It was also nice to connect not only with people from Luther Seminary, but especially with other thinkers and leaders from places like Claremont and Fuller Seminary, but also with people from Boston, Chicago, and even as far a way as Belgium at this conference.
It was a gathering with high gratitude for one another. There was time spent towards the end of the gathering to share things we were grateful for about fellow conversation partners around our tables. That was humbling and affirming. I was welcomed, and even more so, the group welcomed Allison with open arms. Allison tagged along with me to spend the weekend together away from Minnesota. I think Allison enjoyed the learning as much as I did, and certainly the conversations and meeting with new people as much as I did too.
To everyone who participated and helped make the time so rich and wonderful, thank you! I am already looking forward to next year’s meeting and conference, and hope (and trust) that I will be able to again attend and participate.